Officer minimized role in Floyd’s death to investigators

In this courtroom sketch, former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, right, makes an appearance in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis with Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, left, and defense attorney Robert Paule on Thursday, June 4, 2020. Thao and two other police officers have been charged with aiding and abetting Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by him on May 25. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP) (Cedric Hohnstadt)

A former Minneapolis police officer involved in George Floyd's arrest told investigators that he was focused on crowd control and minimized his role in the actions that led to Floyd's death, video of the interview shows.

Tou Thao, one of four former officers charged in Floyd's death, described himself as a “human traffic cone" as he held back onlookers who became increasingly horrified at the police officers' actions, the Star Tribune reported, citing video that was released Friday. Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes on May 25 as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe and as bystanders pleaded with officers to help him.

"I don’t want anyone to die,” Thao told an investigator who asked what his reaction was to Floyd's death. “It was kind of a somber moment, especially for me. My heart kind of sank.”

Thao voluntarily participated in the 1-hour, 40-minute interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension eight days after Floyd's death. He said that as the bystanders got louder, he became worried they might rush Chauvin and two other officers who were holding Floyd on the ground.

Thao and Chauvin had responded to the scene to help two officers, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng, who were attempting to arrest Floyd for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.

While they were on the way, Thao said that dispatch canceled the backup call. But Thao, who was driving, said he felt compelled to respond because Lane and Kueng were new officers and the intersection was known to be "especially hostile” to police.

Thao said Floyd appeared to be on drugs, resisted arrested and used his legs get out of a squad car. As the officers restrained Floyd on the ground, Thao said he heard Floyd say he couldn't breathe, adding, “but then he was obviously yelling and talking."

Thao also said he has never used the maneuver that Chauvin used to pin Floyd to the ground.

Although a woman who identified herself as a Minneapolis firefighter approached Thao and demanded that officers check Floyd's pulse, Thao told investigators that his job was securing the scene and that he couldn't “be in two places at once."

Thao, Lane and Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired and are scheduled for trial in March. Floyd's death sparked protests around the globe against racial injustice and police brutality.

The video of Thao's interview was made available Friday after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison's office filed it to support a motion to have all four officers tried jointly.

The next court hearing for the four is scheduled for Sept. 11.